Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus. Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and vaccinations. It is also very curable when found and treated early.
What causes cervical cancer?
Most cervical cancer is caused by an infection with HPV. HPV is a virus that enters cells and can cause them to change. HPV is spread by skin to skin contact, which means that condoms may not protect you. Some strains of the virus cause genital warts, however most strains cause no symptoms at all. Most of the time, your immune system will clear the virus on its own. If HPV does not go away on its own, it may cause cervical cancer over time.
Other factors which can increase your risk of cervical cancer are:
- Long-term oral contraception
- HIV or reduced immunity
- Multiple sex partners
- Multiple Births
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Most of the time you may not notice any signs or symptoms of cervical cancer. Signs of advanced cervical cancer may include; abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina. These symptoms may not be caused by cervical cancer, but the only way to be sure is to discuss your symptoms with your provider
How often do I need to be screened for cervical cancer?
How often you should be screened depends on your and your health history. Talk with your provider to find out what is best for you
Most women can follow these guidelines:
- If you are between the ages 21 and 29, you should get a Pap test every 3 years
- If you are between the ages 30 and 64, you should get a Pap test and HPV test every 3-5 years
- If you are 65 or older, ask your provider if you can stop screenings
How can I lower my chances of getting cervical cancer?
Prevention and treatment of cervical cancer continues to move forward; the best way to protect yourself is to make careful choices about sexual activity, consider getting the HPV vaccine and to continue your routine screenings and annual wellness exams.